“It’s an irritating reality that many places and events defy description. Angkor Wat and Machu Picchu, for instance, seem to demand silence, like a love affair you can never talk about. For a while after, you fumble for words, trying vainly to assemble a private narrative, an explanation, a comfortable way to frame where you’ve been and what’s happened. In the end, you’re just happy you were there – with your eyes open – and lived to see it.”
How does one write about a place like Angkor Wat? How do I
go about saying things that haven’t already been said—more eloquently, even—or things
that are impossible to say? Do I focus on the incredible heat, which only
allowed us to visit the temples for a few hours at a time before heading back
to our hotel? Do I talk about our guide Dy, his knowledge and pride in the
area? His taking us down quiet backroads so we could enter some of the temples
without running into hordes of other tourists?
Do I try to sum up the history of Angkor Wat and the
surrounding temple complexes in a few words? Try to explain the sprawling
immensity of the area? The incredible amount of slave labor that contributed to
making something so impressive? Do I focus on Angkor Wat? Angkor Thom? The 216
faces carved into the Bayon temple? The intricate carvings throughout all the
temples? Do I try to describe standing in front of Angkor Wat early in the
morning, waiting for the sun to rise behind it, only to find that nothing—not words,
not pictures—could ever capture that sight?
Then, do I just post pictures and let them speak for themselves? Can pictures even capture what we saw, the feeling of the place, the immensity, the beauty? Will anything other than actually going there, actually seeing it with your own eyes, ever suffice? How could it?
When you do visit Siem Reap and Angkor, I would highly suggest booking Dy as your tour guide. We received a free guide through our hotel, requested him specifically and were not let down. He was nothing less than stellar. From the looks of current TripAdvisor reviews, he seems to be working at Angkor Guide Sam.
At the end of our Vietnam trip, we’d worked in two days in Siem Reap in order to check Angkor Wat off the bucket list. We were to fly there from Ho Chi Minh City, through Phnom Penh, but immediately ran into a snag upon entering the airport and seeing our flight – the last one to Phnom Penh that night – had been cancelled.
We immediately went to the airline counter to see what options we had. There was a flight for Phnom Penh scheduled to leave in about 20 minutes. It would be a miracle, but there were going to try to get us on it.
First, we had to sign some forms, and I noticed they said “$50 USD x2” – clearly, a charge to switch to the earlier flight for each of us. Whatever; we didn’t want to lose a day in Siem Reap. But, after we signed the forms, we were each handed a brand new, crisp $50 bill. WE were being compensated for the flight mix-up.
Our main concern with the flight was getting through security, which also turned out to be no problem. The airline worker helping us escorted us to an empty desk, called over a security agent, and he get us through in probably two minutes. We were then escorted to our gate and taken to the flight, which had probably 10 people on it.
We happened to be in an exit row, and the flight attendant came up to give us the rundown.
Flight Attendant: “This is the door in case of emergency.”
Flight Attendant: “Don’t touch it.”
Full stop. And she walked away. I’m curious as to how often this is a problem for them, but needless to say we move away from the exit door as soon as we could.
A selection from the complimentary cocktail hour
We were staying on the Privilege Floor at the Borei Angkor. It was no more expensive than your standard hotel room in NYC, and we figured the place looked nice and we would treat ourselves after staying in homestays, small hotels, and overnight trains throughout most of our trip. We didn’t realize just how much we would be treating ourselves. We had read about the place to book it, of course, but I don’t think we really registered what the extras would entail.
One of those extras was a private ride from the airport, which we now had to somehow work out, since we had arrived on a different flight and at a different time than we had provided to the hotel – all without a phone or internet connection. We eventually figure it out, and our van arrived with our personal concierge, who would be taking care of us for the length of our stay. He arrived with fresh garlands of jasmine for us to have a pleasant smell on the ride to the airport.
We arrived to cold, wet face towels to help with the stifling heat, even at night. We were checked in to the Privilege Floor, which was clearly the luxury area of the hotel; they must have been surprised to see two dirty backpackers roll in.
After being shown to our room, where there was fresh fruit and a bottle of champagne waiting, we took advantage of a few of the amenities: we got a certain amount of free laundry each day, and a complimentary refillable mini fridge. We took the beer out and hid it so they would refill it when they came back in the morning. We checked out the pillow menu (yes, the pillow menu) and decided to just go eat dinner at the restaurant on our floor.
It was here that I first experienced lok lak, a stir fried beef dish borrowed from Vietnam. And while it was only hotel food, this hotel was pretty legit, and the lok lak was absolutely delicious. The other two things I remember about the dinner was our server, who was jovial, hilarious, and had one of the best laughs I’ve ever heard, and the fact that the hotel seemed to have only a Phil Collins’ greatest hits CD and played it repeatedly.
Our first full day included a massive breakfast buffet included with the room, which I couldn’t take full advantage of due to some tummy struggles left over from Vietnam, and which I still regret to this day. We also went to tour the Angkor ruins with a guide and driver provided by the hotel. We also took advantage of the spa, which was also included in the price of our room.
The spa experience was…something else. LeeAnne got a regular massage while I opted for the traditional Khmer massage – might as well experience the local stuff, right? Well, after the massage therapist came in and mimed that I needed to strip down and change into a pair of underwear reminiscent of the disposable socks that give you at shoe stores, she proceeded to use knuckles and elbows to work over basically every point on my body except my dick. It was simultaneously the most relaxed and most beat up I’ve ever been.
Our stay was wonderful. It was a great splurge after spending nights on bumpy trains and in small hotels, and the service was second to none. Our personal concierge made sure we were always looked after, the rest of the staff was incredibly helpful, and the air conditioning was wonderful (which it had to be, as it was 116 degrees outside at one point – the staff couldn’t fathom that where we came from, it hit 0 Celsius).
The price, which as I mentioned you would pay for basically any mid-level hotel in New York City, was an absolute steal for everything that was included. And while I did feel a bit out of place at times in my t-shirt and hiking boots, I would go back again in a heartbeat. If you want to see the Angkor Temples and you want to have every bit of your stay taken care of, The Privilege Floor at the Borei is the place to do it.